Thursday, February 19, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
It has taken my nearly 8 years to become a decent skiier. By decent, I mean, someone that can actually stop without the snow plow brakes, have control, not accidentally ski over Uncle Bill's ridiculously expensive Atomic skis, resulting in being chastised and the family joke for the next the three Christmas dinners (still scarred after that incident!)
But you can sort of say that skiing is in my blood. My Dad is an excellent skiier, and everytime I perched beside him on a ski lift, climbing to the peak of the mountain, he is either chatting along with other skiing neighbors, or reminiscing. He does that a lot actually. He loves to talk about how he learned to ski when his best friend brought him to the top of a mountain and said, "now you go down the mountain!" or how he used to ski in jeans and the lines for lifts would go on for hours and hours. But he especially loves to talk about his trip to ski in Chamonix, France, the only time he had ever been to France, but the happiest and greatest memory he had of his skiing escapeades. Of course, no perfect sleep is without it's few nightmares here and there. The one thing my Dad never failed to mention when talking about skiing in France, was the etiquette that had appalled him. Even though I had always listened closely, even forming my own hope to one day ski at Chamonix, I never really grasped some of complaints he upheld with the skiing etiquette in France.
That was until it was my turn to ski in La Belle France, amongst the French. Now I wish to bring you my life lessons of Skiing Etiquette according the the French.
1.] The person on skis in front of me in line? But, of course, we never wait in line. What a silly concept!
This is La Belle France, home of the lovely and always amusing French. They are often criticised for not having the decency to wait in line, and I can attest to that fact by just thinking about my school cafeteria waiting ritual (I refer to it as a ritual because no line exists, there is just one major stampede for the food.) There is no such thing as waiting in line in France, so waiting for the ski lift is a ritual as well.
My Dad, in his reminscing of the Chamonix trip, enjoys telling the story of one lovely French lady who tried to roll a head of him in line by ducking on her skis and practically crawling to the front. My Dad, put his pole down right in front of her, and shocked her nearly to death. "Damn, foreigner," she muttered. I always heard this story, but never truly HEARD it. That was until experience taught me exactly this.
While standing I was sure to note that the wait was a whooping 3 to 5 minutes depending on the size of the ski school at that moment. Yet, that did not stop a single person from searching for a crack in the line to exploit for cutting purposes. Since, I went with a group of my neighbors of Fixin, as I drew nearer to the lift, and furthur from the back of the line, people from Fixin who I had seen before but never actually met would come up to me and say, "Ahh Julie! Such a wonderful day, yes? You are an excellent skiier, how long have you been doing it?" The conversation would last long enough for them to slide in front of me and get a better spot in line than if they had retreated to the back of line like they were supposed to. I never spoke to most of them again after they had used me for a better spot in line, and being against my own morals, I never used them when they had a good spot in the line. Even when my dear friend, Clement called out to me from the front of the line to the back, "Julie come on up here and ski with us!" All I could think about was the snide remarks of fellow American skiiers waiting in line, "Excuse me, no cutting!" or "How rude! Don't you know how to wait?"
2.] He who stands in front of me is closer to the lift. But, of course, if I roll over his skis and push the line will go faster.
I mentioned before that I once skiied over Uncle Bill's expensive Atomic skis, and have still yet to live that down. However, there is one thing that should be said. I was a terrible skiier, and I could not stop without doing the snow plow position with the skis. It was an accident and I had no intention whatsoever of scratching the skis. Luckily, upon furthur inspection, the Atomic had not affected in the slightest. Just my moral, after being screamed at and called a bloody idiot for an hour.
On the line, whenever I lost control and accidentally skiied into someone in front of me or just grazed the back of their skis with my own, I was taught to profusely apoligize. If not, I would merit a horrible glance, or even perhaps a, "excuse me, watch where you are going!" It is unwritten rule in America that personal space exists on the skis, and you are in no way supposed to ski over or damage someone's skis.
Having skiied for just a few measly hours at a tiny ski resort in Jura, on a day that was virtually empty in regards to crowds, all I can say is that my rented skis took such a beating that I am surprised I was not charged a damage fee. Little kids excel at riding over skis, but little kids can be forgiven. Their parents, on their other hand, can not. On more than one occasion I heard a parent say, "Come now Brigitte, push a head or you will not get on in time!" or "Clement, just knock his poles out of the way and move along!"
Besides having to worry about being cut and pushed out of line, I now had to focus on trudging along in ski that were constantly being run over and crashed into by impatient French people. All I could think about was my Uncle Bill and the imaginary coronary he would have had, had he been in my ski boots in that exact moment.
>>>>....TO BE CONTINUED...<<<<
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
My American exchange student counterpart (and buddy) Alex Einstman realized the need for an American hang-out weekend. And so she planned another meeting of the Dijon Trois (Julie Garner, Alex Einstmann, and Andrew Ludwig) for some of our favorite activites, which include cooking, partying, and hanging out. It was really an important event for me, seeing as I was on theverge throwing away my French experience on the count of a misunderstanding and this very blog. I needed a weekend surrounded by friends more than anyone can imagine. After an excellent Saturday evening, in which Andrew sealed us out of the Dijon night club on the count of his looking way too young, and so having gone to a different bar and having just as much fun anyway. On Sunday, after a huge traditonal French Sunday lunch, followed by a good old American cheesecake created by the Dijon Trois, the host father of Alex decided it was time to drop Andrew off. We thought that was very nice of him, which would take the burden off Andrew of having to search out a bus fron Hauteville to Dijon, and finally from Dijon to Fixin. We figured he would drop Andrew off in the Mercedes. That was until we drive to the local airport and boarded Monsieur Faivre's helicopter.
"Andrew, right now there are probably two people in the entire world that get dropped off in helicopters. You and the American President Barack Obama."
This was my first time ever riding in a helicopter, and what better way than surrounded by friends and in Beautiful Burgundy? Of course, there are a few strange effects to having gone up in a helicopter in France. The first would probably be that the walkie-talkie things that you put on your head to hear other people are quite loud and blasting in French. French... It was sort of like a nightmare. The second strange side effect is the shock I felt about my orientation in this part of Burgundy. "Ah, look there is Chenove! I see my pool. And there is Marsannay, followed by Couchey, and finally Fixin. Then you have Brochon, Gevrey-Chambertin, and if you look right there that where Clemence Mortet's family grows Premier Cru wine. Did you know 9 or Burgundy's Premier Cru is grown here in Gevrey? Okay I think I can name at leat 6 of those fields... Then there is Moret St. Denis, and LOOK! Clos Vougeot!"
My flying experience over Burgundy really just took us over the Cote d'Nuit, which is the winegrowing region from Dijon to the town just after Nuit St. Georges. This is the place that I know very well, having spent almost 6 months living and learning here. I loved looking over the land, the high points of the land were dowsed in wintery white snow, while at midpoint it was covered in a light white dusting. Dijon in the distance was it's usual gray, not such a contrast to the sky, but heavily different to the light green forests and combs we flew over as we neared Fixin.
Fixin. From the air, the little villages became ever more distinct and separated than I could ever have imagined. To many who pass by and through the village, the names and places glop together as they sort of resemble each other in size and age. A true wine enthusiast would know the difference between Couchey and Fixin, but not many people could claim that right. Yet from the air, the 9th century Church of Fixey pinpointed exactly the village that Andrew and I have come to call home. We could not hide our excitement passing over the village and seeing the sights we knew best.
"Look it's the Bernard's Vineyard!" "Look it is my house! Charlotte! Coline! Anyone?!?!" "Do you see the Church of Fixey and the other church of Fixin? AH, look our school!"
Since Alex's host father could not drop Andrew directly at his house, or it might crush the surrounding vineyards, he dropped him off in the Fixin Combs, my favorite place in all of France. We waved enthusiastically as Andrew stood in the fields above Fixin waving at us, as we lifted from the comb and headed back to the Dijon airport.
Somewhere along the way, I remembered how much I love Burgundy. And I realized that I am not ready to give up. I will do what it takes to make things right again.
Friday, February 06, 2009
As you might be able to tell from reading my blog, I am not completely enarmored or in love with la Belle France. At least, not yet. After rereading my blog, half a dozen times yesterday, I realized that I did not fall in love with Japan either until February/March, even though from the way I feel about Japan now, one would never be able to tell.
My life in France is of the following: I wake up and go to school, which, let's face it, is somewhat torture for me. That may be a strong way to put it, but I do not like school, and I really have not made any lasting friends or even acquintnces that invite me to hang out here or there. I often feel that everything I do is wrong in someone's eyes. Most of the time it is just funny, often meriting a comical blog entry for future giggles. But some of the time, it hurts. I know my French is not good, and I know I make mistakes, but I also try so hard to be as perfect as I can. Yet, I do like it here a whole lot, and for one reason only. I have a great host family. Even after long days at school, when I have been laughed at for sounding like a sock puppet when speaking French, or was screamed at by the bus driver for putting the bus card in upside down, I get to come home and hang out with Coline, my hilarious host sister, Charlotte, my fellow Grey's Anatomy addict, Leonie, my host mom who is just really cool, Clemence and Antoine, who I swear are married, and Jean-Francois, who enjoys picking on me, but kindly. The host family was the one thing I could always rely on to make me crack a smile, keep me sane, tell me when I am doing something wrong, and make me really want to stay and finish this year here in France.
But I have messed that up now.
On Thursday night, after watching season 5 Grey's Anatomy with Charlotte, I went to the bathroom. When I came back, I was shocked to see her reading my blog. This blog. I over reacted and asked her to stop reading it. There is no excuse for it, but I suppose I was just shocked to see someone in France reading it. Of course while I write, I make sure to keep in mind that anybody can read this, including the people I write about. I never put anything in here that would hurt anybody. But, honestly, I did not think it would be of any interest to anyone here, since it is kind of long and written in American English. Even though Charlotte stopped temporarily to shut me up, as soon as I went to bed, she got back on my blog and started reading. And even though her English is not perfect, she found some things on the blog to be offensive, and asked Leonie to read it and verify if she was correct.
I never meant to hurt anybody. I never set out to write words that would hurt people I can not stand, yet alone people that I actually love. But I did. I hurt Leonie really badly. When she confronted me the next morning, I could tell that the things I said here on this blog had deeply offended her. She said things like I was not the person she had thought she knew, and she quoted passages from this blog that had bothered her. I agreed with her fully on the article, "The Monster," which I believe was deeply offensive to my host family. Not that I had set out to write it that way. I set out to write that article for my parents at home in New Jersey, who I knew would roar in laughter at the concept of a little girl farting at the dinner table. It is like Thanksgiving in our family. And I knew making my host family seem more realistic and human would help my family at home understand why I really like the Robert's and feel comfortable here. But, yes, I acknowledge, after rereading 'The Monster,' it was offensive. But I had a hard time understanding why the other things hurt so much. What I mean is that I understood clearly that they hurt her, but since I had wrote them because I found them to be funny and in no way offensive, it was hard to imagine that they so deeply wounded her.
I had always thought to myself that if they had found this blog and read it, that they would be annoyed at how many times I said, "I know I have said this before... but I really love my host family." My own Mom back at home gets annyed when I say how much I like my host family, "geez, Jule, what about us?" Yet, Leonie asked me during the confrontation if I even liked living with her family. My heart broke as soon as the words slipped out of her mouth.
Regardless, I had hurt my host family. I do not like hurting anyone, and I get overly sensitive and my conscience lags me down for hours until some sort of resolution is made. But hurting these people makes it so much worse, unintentional or not. The fact that my tear ducts no longer work from crying for 8 hours straight should give one some understanding of how upset I really was. Everything inside of me hurt, and I could stop shaking.
And as I listened, profusely apoligizing, and crying harder than I have ever cried in my life, I saw only one option: I could not stay here anymore. Of course, there is no where else to go. Rotary does not care very much about me, and when it comes down to it, the Robert's are my family, friends, and everything else I have in France.
In my mind, I had to go home. Back to America. I suppose it was being rash, when I made this decision in my mind seeing no other option. And I do not think Leonie believed me when I said I would go home as soon as possible. But I felt so deeply upset about this, that I truly believed it was the only way to set things to set things right. I thought in my mind that I wanted my host family to think me as the fun, somewhat complicated, intelligent American girl that stayed with them for a few months, rather than the gossiping hurtful American girl living with them presently. I did not want them to have to look at me and constantly think, "I wonder what bad stuff she is saying about us now..."
Leonie left for the United States this morning for a a week, but I made her promise me something. I made her promise me that she would think about whether she wanted me to leave. Even though she spoke to me as though I was mad, that they would not ask me to leave. I believe she even felt regretful for having brought the blog up, for how I reacted. But on some level, I am glad she did bring it up. I made a mistake, even though I fully do not comprehend why, I still hurt people, so whatever she says will be justified.
If anyone was ever hurt by the things I have said on this blog, in real life, or something else, then I am truly deeply sorry.
ShareRules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. I was tagged with this stupid thing on Facebook at least 60 times, but I will not waste anyone's time on Facebook. I will just post it here instead.
1. I am a musician. I play the Japanese Koto.
2. The sound of the Spanish language makes me violently ill. It used to be all Romance languages, but I got immune to French. That is what happens when you live in France for a year.
3. If I was dictator of the world, my first act would be to make Thanksgiving an international holiday.
4. I think I would be a really terrible mother, that is why I do not really want kids.
5. However (referring to number 4) I like the names for girls Scout, Aimee, and Clem for girls. For boys I like Jack, Sam, and Shep.
6. I was raised to be a Parrothead and a Dead Head from two Republicans.
7. I would pay ANY price for a Mocha Frappucino. (I paid $10 in London, and my health in Paris.)
8. I get such dry skin on my face in the winter time that people think I have leprecy.
9. One of my life mottos is that even if you are not good at something, if you love it than that is all that really counts.
10. I am a Cross Country runner, a lap swimmer, a Francophone, and a speaker of Japanese. Why? Refer to #9.
11. In elementary school, I wanted to be the following; palentoligist, meteroligist, astonomer, astronaut, marine bioligist, and a spice girl.
12. I read Harry Potter and Twilight before the rest of the world did.
13. Japan and France were both not even on my list when I signed up to be an exchange student. Yet, here I am in France, thinking about my best year alive in Japan, and believing everything happens for a reason.
14. I believe not in God, but in religion. I believe in reincarnation, like Hinduism. I believe in finding Nirvana, like Buddhism. I believe in respecting our ancestors, like Shintoism. I believe in God, that he created the universe but it sitting back and letting it work itself out, like some sort of Christianity.
15. I won a medal for Modern Japanese dancing and was on National television for it.
16. I can touch my tongue to my nose.
17. My biggest fear is drowning. I was afraid to swim in pools for about 2 years.
18. Everytime I stand by the ocean, I feel peaceful and relaxed. But also insignifcant and small. I can not grasp the size of the great big water that connects us all.
19. I am learning how to cook. But I have a passion for baking.
20. Wine, Chocolate, and coffee define who I have become.
21. I cried for 8 hours today because my host Mom was mad at me. it was the first time I cried in 3 months.
22. I am a world-class goody two shoes. I hate being in trouble, my conscience collapses under guilt, and I am a terrible liar.
23. Most of my friends live on different continents, probably because I am so difficult.
24. I get all giggly when I drink a lot, and I speak Japanese when I am drunk.
25. I have a scar above my right eye from when I was a baby. I used to get made fun of for it when I was in school, and so I still am very shy about it.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Then I was placed in Fixin, France.
All of those things that I thought impossible; a town smaller and a place more safe to the point of boring than Verona, had suddenly been realized. This tiny French village Fixin can not even be called a town. It is a miniscule village, and I have even heard people refer to it as a hamlet. There is just about 715 inhabitants in Fixin, all tucked away in the village that is surrounded by rolling vineyards. That sick part is that Fixin makes Verona look like a big city, and I can not help but chuckle when I remember complaining that nothing ever changed in Verona. At least in Verona, the houses change. In Fixin, people are still living in the same houses that they lived in 300 years ago, before America was even a country!
With only 715 people, the French who inhabit Fixin, surely know their neighbors by name, face, and house location. But cultural differences between the French and Americans change one slight thing about life in a small town. There exists a joke between foreigners in France, that when God stated the 10 Commandments, more specifically, the part about loving thy neighbor, he was not expecting the French to follow in suite. From what I have heard and seen, the people in Fixin are generally a close bunch compared to the rest of neighbors in France. Yet, nobody really cares about each others business here, and best of all, gossip barely exists. If the mayors daughter was caught smoking Pot on school property, the world would not be halted to a standstill, in fact, I doubt anyone would really care. By the time the story faded away from discussion, it would still the mayors daughter got caught smoking Pot on school property. Whereas in Verona, the story would have mutated into something along the following warped and insane lines: the mayor’s daughter got caught shooting heroin in the teacher’s office with her 30 year-old history teacher, who has been her lover for the past 6 months. This is all a protest to that fact that her father spends more time governing the town than paying enough attention to his daughter’s needs.
I believe that the good people of Fixin have different things to worry about than the fine people of Verona. For example, the wine growers can not concern themselves with gossip when they have to worry about the disappointing 2008 harvest season and how it will affect the industry. And the Verona Townies never mettle in matters of agriculture when there are football games to attend, gossip to spread, and worries of keeping Verona as perfect as possible.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Dear Friends and Family Back in the States,
Writing letters are somewhat hard to do. At least for me, the kind of person, who prefers to keep certain feelings bottles up. I think I prefer postcards, where there is a bright big picture of a beautiful place, and only a tiny little section for writing. This way if the vacation is disappointing, absolutely dreadful, and a living nightmare, one only has enough room to say,
“How are you? [Name of place] is lovely. Weather could be better, but no worries. I had a little a mishap with the Seafood, but am feeling great now. Wish you were here! Miss you lots! Love Always.”
It is sort of like the doctrine deeply imbedded into our manners, which is the response to, “How are you?”
Even though I am sick as a dog, my husband just lost his job, little Jimmy might have a learning disability, or I ran out of gas five minutes before the meeting that would determine my future.
Some things are easier just being kept up inside, being shielded from letting the world know our little troubles here and there. Answering fine, or scribbling down some false crap about our vacation from hell, just seems easier to do.
|The view from the top of Fixin.|
It had been five months since I landed at Charles de Gaulle International Airport to commence with my second year abroad as a Rotary Youth Exchange. Already, some people thought I was utterly and certifiable insane. Not many people do two exchanges abroad in other countries. Often they have just OKAY first year exchanges, and not even think about having a second go at it.
I, on the other hand, had the greatest year of my life while I lived in Kochi, Japan. I know a lot of people have a hard time understanding why I loved Japan so much, the language is ridiculously complicated and the culture is unfathomably different. But not a day or an hour passes that I do not think about that country and those people that I fell in love with over the course of one year.
|The view from the top of Kochi.|
Japan, but that I was mature enough to differentiate my experiences and take the best from both. And frankly, I have a done a good job at it. France and Japan are so immensely and absurdly different, that comparing the two is like comparing chocolate ice cream and an onion.
But here I am in France, after 5 months, and writing a letter home. I have a million things to say, but I am going to be bluntly honest.
I do not love France. I can not look down the road in 5 years and see myself here happily existing and living my life. I fight a daily struggle with the French language, which if you can believe or not, is harder than Japanese. I studied French for a year in high school, and more importantly, I can read the alphabet. Yet, my French is not as good as my Japanese was at this point in my Japanese adventure. And while, that would not bother me too much, I am often reminded that my speaking skills are poor by the French. Everyday, I make a silly mistake, and get laughed at by classmates, bus drivers, and random people on the street. Sure, it is funny the first 60 times that it happens, but then it gets embarrassing, and I find myself avoiding speech at all costs.
Things get old fast. I am tired of being around people who firmly believe they know more about America than I do. I can not believe I am saying this, but the more people tell me that all Americans eat Big Macs three times a day, the more patriotic I get. I am also almost at the point where I can no longer count on my fingers how many times I have missed school because of strikes. I am all for the power of the people, and one’s right to fight for however much one is worth. But it can, and has gotten a little ridiculous. And I am tired of feeling stupid with each passing day. It started with the language, and the daily snicker about my poor pronunciation. But it has progressed to sitting in a restaurant and being harassed by a waiter, who clearly does not like his job. Or being called rude because I do not understand how the cultural bisous greeting works, and with whom you are supposed to exchange kisses with and with whom you are only supposed to shake hands.
|The pursuit of pleasure, of the French Dream.|
Instead, it is best to say that I like France A LOT, and a year experience here is perfect. And I am just about halfway through my exchange here to France (I have not submitted my date for return just yet, however, but I am aiming for mid-July.) I still have a lot more to do and see and experience.
What I love about France can not easily be described in just a few words. What I love is the French unofficial life motto to live by following and pursuing pleasure. Think about it, they get 5 weeks paid vacation each year, and a multitude of holidays. And what do they do? They travel and explore. No one stays at home for vacation. In addition, the French will not put anything into their mouth that is not appetizing and incredibly delicious. This is probably why they have the world’s most renowned cuisine. And do not even get me started about the wine and cheese. Life does not get much better.
But I do not think I could live in France for the rest of my life. Of course, my two years as an
|Maybe I am not French and never will be. But I can|
and am changing.
As for Japan? Yes, I could see myself living there for the rest of life. However, life over there is far more difficult for a foreigner than in France and America. Living in Japan and being Japanese is not the same thing. Even if I threw away my American passport and became Japanese, I would always be a ‘gaijin’ because the blood that runs through my veins is not Japanese. France and America do not have the blood and ethnics restrictions.
So, what’s it goin’ be then, eh?
There is another reason why I am here in France writing this letter, and not sitting at a desk in Davis, California, studying as a University student. I did not know what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. And I thought -- maybe, just maybe -- another year in a foreign country will make things clearer, and I will know exactly what I am supposed to do, where I am supposed to go, and who I am supposed to be.
I am still on that quest.